When preparing for a kitchen remodel, homeowners have a lot of things to think about —appliances, cabinets, lighting, and countertop options, to name a few. Most people immediately think of stone slabs for the latter. And while they might make a big statement, their beauty comes at a high price.
But that doesn't mean that you're out of luck. There are several budget-friendly alternatives worth considering, such as tile kitchen countertops. Sure, the retro idea might be less conventional, but it's practical, durable, and, most importantly, one of the more affordable options around. So, if you want beautiful counters without breaking the bank, read on.
What is tile?
Tile is made from manufactured, hard-wearing materials such as ceramic, stone, metal, baked clay, or even glass. Fired tile includes ceramic and porcelain and stone tile is cut from slate, granite, travertine, and marble. The size and shape varies depending on the material. For example, ceramic and porcelain tiles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, whereas natural stone is usually limited to squares and rectangles. Ceramic and porcelain tend to be the most popular choice for tiled kitchen countertops.
Ceramic Tile 101
Ceramic tile reached its peak in the 1970s and then began to fall out of favor with the availability of engineered and natural stone slabs, but it's slowly resurfacing again, thanks in part to the affordability and ease of installation. It is made from natural clay that's been baked at high temperatures to remove moisture. Ceramic tile is easy to care for, requiring just mild soap and water for daily cleaning and non-acidic cleaners for a deeper clean. Grout lines can be an entry point for bacteria and germs, so it's necessary to have counters professionally resealed once a year. And when it's properly sealed, the result is heat-, water-, and stain-resistant.
There are many reasons to use ceramic tile on a kitchen countertop, including the wide variety of colors, sizes, and shapes available. And with so many options, there is room for endless creativity. On average, ceramic tile costs range from 50 cents to $35 per square foot, making it extremely wallet-friendly.
Porcelain Tile 101
Porcelain tile is a subcategory of ceramic tile composed of clays and minerals. Since it's fired at higher temperatures it's incredibly durable, making it heat-, scratch-, and stain-resistant. It's more difficult to install than ceramic, so leave this one to the professionals. Like ceramic tile, porcelain is gaining in popularity as a kitchen countertop option. It comes in virtually any size and color and can even look like natural stone. However, it's pricier than ceramic tile — ranging from $3 to $35 per square foot — but less than granite and marble.
Porcelain tile is easy to care for requiring just mild soap and water or an all-purpose cleaner to remove stubborn residue but avoid acidic cleaners. They do need to be sealed every year though, to keep grout lines stain- and germ-free. If food does stick to grout lines, an old toothbrush can work wonders at removing it.
Granite Tile 101
Granite slab countertops bring a sense of luxury to any space, but they are expensive and unrealistic for many budgets. The good news is that this natural stone can be cut into tiles, resulting in a more affordable option while retaining the same texture and beauty. Granite is an igneous rock formed under extreme heat, resulting in a material that is highly durable (heat-, stain-, and scratch-resistant when properly sealed). Slabs range from $80 to $150 per square foot, while granite tile runs from $50 to $75 per square foot.
Like most natural stone, including marble, limestone, and soapstone, granite is porous and needs to be professionally sealed before installation and annually thereafter. This is particularly important with granite tile in order to keep grout lines bacteria- and stain-free. Granite tile countertops are easy to care for on a daily basis, and mild soap and warm water are enough to keep them clean. A side note on grout lines: They can be emphasized for visual effect or minimized to create more of a slab-like appearance. Just keep in mind that grout lines are where bacteria and germs enter and stains occur.
Pros and Cons of Tile Countertops
- Ceramic tile comes in a seemingly endless variety of colors, sizes, and shapes.
- It's easy to install and can even be tackled as a DIY project.
- Tile is affordable and heat-, scratch-, and stain-resistant when properly sealed.
- Cleaning on a daily basis is a breeze requiring nothing more than wiping your counters down with a microfiber cloth, water, and soap (or a non-acidic solution).
- As opposed to a large stone slab, it's easy to replace tiles if a chip or crack appears.
- Tile counters do require annual professional maintenance to keep bacteria out of the grout. Grout lines should be as thin as possible to minimize staining and harboring germs. However, the smaller the tile, the more grout lines you will need to keep clean.
- The nature of tile and grout results in an uneven work surface that isn't ideal for food prep, like rolling out dough, and a cutting board should be used for chopping.
- Tiles can crack under extreme heat.
- Tile countertops don't have universal appeal, so if you're considering selling your home in the near future you may want to consider another material.
15 Tile Countertop Ideas
1. Introduce warmth with terra cotta.
Blanket your kitchen in terra cotta tile for a welcoming and earthy feel, as Marazzi USA did in this rustic space, which showcases the natural material in varying sizes on the floor, countertops, and backsplash. White cabinets and walls temper the rust-colored hue while stainless appliances add a contemporary vibe.
2. Don't shy away from color.
Zellige — the handmade Moroccan tile that brings irresistible color variation and texture to interiors — is an on-trend material oftentimes used for kitchen and bathroom backsplashes. But in this sunny cook space by DHD Architecture clad the island resulting in a striking focal point. The glossy surface reflects an abundance of natural light that's further highlighted by a backdrop of matte stone finishes.
3. Opt for stark white.
For an eye-catching idea with maximum visual effect, use the same tile on all kitchen surfaces, from the counters to the walls. Even the shelves in this minimalist space by Hecker Guthrie get the white square tile makeover, elevating the impact of an everyday staple. The graphic lines and stainless steel accessories add interest to the pared-down design.
4. Say "yes" to original details.
Embrace the character of an older home. Basic white cabinets are the perfect backdrop for the original yellow and green countertop tile in this cozy kitchen that harkens back to a simpler time. Laminate flooring adds a subtle pattern that ties the sweet look together.
5. Select a soothing palette.
The color palette in this stunning kitchen by Chan + Eayrs is primarily made up of seafoam green and weathered white. Natural stone graces the backsplash, floor, and countertops, and Despite the small scale of the natural stone tiles used on the backsplash, floor, and countertops, the cohesive tone provides continuity throughout. Custom oak cabinets add depth and texture to the pared-down space.
6. Compensate for uneven work surfaces.
A workaround solution to the inherently uneven surface of tiled countertops? Inset a flat area within the tile as seen on the end cap of the island in this kitchen by Eric Olsen Design. The clever little trick means that you can still enjoy the culinary trend without it affecting the functionality of your space. Win-win!
7. Choose tiles in different shapes.
Katie Denham Interiors managed to honor the past when updating this period kitchen, retaining its original charm while making it functional and approachable She installed tile in two different shapes — hexagonal on the countertops and rectangular on the backsplash — for visual interest, but the shared white color keeps the combo from being distracting. Calming mint green accents and chrome hardware lend a welcome retro vibe.
8. Install a modern grid.
It's hard to dispute subway tile's traditional bent, but it can have a surprisingly au courant appearance depending on how it's installed. In this high contrast kitchen by Ashley Gilbreath, black subway tile in a stacked bond pattern transitions seamlessly from the backsplash to the countertop resulting in a mesmerizing grid pattern with an appealing modern note. White grout further enhances the design.
9. Embrace varying shades of gray.
Marble isn't the only medium that imparts sophistication in a design scheme. Just look at this setup designed by Weatherleigh Interiors. The terra cotta tile flaunting varying shades of gray adds dreamy depth, texture, and old-world charm to a quiet corner. Aged brass taps enhance the European sensibility while providing a bit of warmth.
10. Consider a boho-farmhouse vibe.
Opt for vintage farmhouse vibes with an all-over white scheme like this kitchen design belonging to Elizabeth from The College Housewife. Her rental showcases charming elements like shaker-style cabinets and tile laid out in a diamond pattern on the countertop and backsplash. A marble-topped storage cart is equal parts utilitarian and beautiful — expanding the petite kitchen's work surface and infusing a high-end touch. A handful of plants, a bright woven rug, and one-of-a-kind accessories lend a welcoming bohemian feel.
11. Tile the shelving, too.
Don't stop at the countertops. Follow the lead of this colorful kitchen spotted on Domus and keep the good times rolling, up the walls and onto the shelving. Paired with flat panel cabinets in an equally vibrant hue, the end result is fun, playful, and oh-so-modern.
12. Amp up the drama with an all-black color scheme.
13. Opt for a mixed effect.
If you really want something unique, consider a mixed approach. This earthy, layered scene was achieved with the help of Clé Tile bundles that are comprised of 10 different types of stone tile.
14. Have fun with the grout.
Does plain white tile feel a little too ... well, plain? Take a page out of interior designer Isabelle Heilmann of the Épicène Agency's book and dress it up with a bit of color. In this vibrant orange kitchen, she opted to give the tiled countertop a little kick with colored grout to match the range hood. The result is subtle yet it definitely makes an impact.
15. Go small.
When it comes to tiled countertops, you usually see larger square tile used the most. However, every now and then someone will decide to go with a smaller scale option, and we wholeheartedly approve. The mosaic tile-clad island in this green kitchen design by Tom Mark Henry looks like a shimmering jewel box in the center of the room.